Who does not know this movie? Harry F. Potter is the monopolistic Banker / Cult Leader, played by Lionel Barrymore, Drew Barrymore's great uncle. George Bailey, played by James Stewart, fights to keep his father's Building and Loan Association from being squashed by the Potter Bank. An awesome anti cult message for all! Merry Christmas!
It's a Wonderful Life
|It's a Wonderful Life
December 20, 1946
$3,180,000 [N 1]
is a 1946 Hollywood Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren Stern.
It's a Wonderful Life
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community.
Despite initially being considered a box office flop due to high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, the film has come to be regarded as a classic and a staple of Christmas television around the world. Theatrically, the film's break-even point was actually $6.3 million, approximately twice the production cost, a figure it never came close to achieving in its initial release. An appraisal in 2006 reported: "Although it was not the complete box-office failure that today everyone believes ... it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were."
It's a Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars without winning any, although the film has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.
Christmas Eve finds George Bailey (James Stewart) deeply troubled. Prayers for his wellbeing from friends and family reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), Angel Second Class, is assigned to save George and earn his wings. Franklin and Joseph, the head angels, review George's life with Clarence. At the age of 12, George (Bobby Anderson) saved the life of his younger brother Harry (George Nokes), who had fallen through the ice on a frozen pond, though George lost the hearing in his left ear. Later, as an errand boy in a pharmacy, George saved his grief-stricken boss, druggist Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner), by refusing to deliver a child's prescription Gower mistakenly filled with poison.
George's dream has been to see the world. However, he repeatedly sacrifices his ambition for others, waiting for Harry (Todd Karns) to graduate from high school and replace him at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, vital to the people of Bedford Falls. On Harry's graduation night in 1928, George discusses his future with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl. Later that evening, George's absent-minded Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) and Harry break the news to George his father has had a stroke, which proves fatal. A few months later, Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a heartless slumlord and majority shareholder in the Building and Loan, tries to persuade the board of directors to stop providing home loans for the working poor. George talks them into rejecting Potter's proposal, but they agree only on the condition that George himself run the Building and Loan. He gives his college money to his brother with the understanding that when Harry returns, he will take over the Building and Loan.
When Harry graduates from college, he unexpectedly brings home a wife, whose father has offered Harry an excellent job in his company. Although Harry vows to decline the offer as per their prior arrangement, George cannot deny his brother such a fine opportunity.
George and Mary get married. As they are leaving town for their honeymoon, they witness a run on the bank that leaves the Building and Loan in danger of collapse. The couple quell the panic by using the $2,000 earmarked for their honeymoon to satisfy the depositors' immediate needs. Mary enlists the help of Bert, a policeman, and Ernie, a cab driver, to create a faux tropical setting for a substitute honeymoon in the same old house that Mary had dreamed of living in with George.
George and Mary raise four children. George starts up Bailey Park, an affordable housing project. They and the other residents no longer have to pay Potter's high rents. Potter tries to hire him away, offering him a $20,000 annual salary, [N 2] along with the promise of business trips to New York and Europe. George is tempted, but turns him down.
When World War II erupts, George is unable to enlist due to his bad ear. Harry becomes a fighter pilot and is awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down 15 enemy planes, two of which were targeting a U.S. transport ship full of troops in the Pacific. Potter runs the local draft board.
On Christmas Eve, 1946, Uncle Billy is on his way to deposit $8,000 for the Building and Loan when he runs into Potter. He proudly shows Potter the front-page article about Harry receiving the Medal of Honor. Potter grabs the newspaper angrily and discovers the money inside; he keeps it. When Uncle Billy realizes it is missing, a frantic search is started. With a bank examiner set to inspect the books that very day, a desperate George appeals to Potter for a loan to save the company, but Potter turns him down and swears out a warrant for his arrest for bank fraud.
George takes his frustrations out on his family, before storming off and getting drunk at a bar owned by his old friend Martini (Bill Edmunds). He crashes his car into a tree during a snowstorm. George staggers to a bridge, intending to commit suicide, feeling he is "worth more dead than alive" because of a $15,000 life insurance policy. Before he can leap in, however, Clarence appears and jumps in first and pretends to be drowning. After George rescues him, Clarence reveals himself to be George's guardian angel.
George does not believe him, but when he bitterly says he wishes he had never been born, Clarence has him experience what the town would have been like if he had never existed. In this alternate reality, Bedford Falls has become Pottersville and is home to sleazy nightclubs and pawn shops. Bailey Park was never built. Gower was sent to prison for many years for poisoning the child (because George never existed to intervene), and is now a derelict. Martini no longer owns his bar. George's friend Violet Beck (Gloria Grahame) is a dancer at a local club who gets arrested as a pickpocket. Uncle Billy has been in an insane asylum for years. Harry is dead, since George was not around to save him, and the soldiers Harry would have saved in the war also died. Mrs. Bailey is a bitter widow running a boarding house, and Mary is a spinster librarian.
George ends up badly shaken by these experiences and flees back to the bridge, begging God to let him live again. His prayer is answered. When he runs home joyously, the bank examiner and policemen are waiting there to arrest him. Just then, Mary, Uncle Billy, and a flood of townspeople arrive, with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan. George's friend Sam Wainwright sends him a line of credit for $25,000 via telegram. George's brother Harry also arrives from Washington D.C., having abandoned a banquet held in his honor, and flown during a blizzard in order to help his brother, and leads the townspeople in singing Auld Lang Syne in George's honor. George finds a gift from Clarence, a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the inscription:
"Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence."
A bell on the tree rings, and his daughter Zuzu remembers that it signifies that an angel has earned his wings. George happily confirms this, now realizing that, while he didn't get to follow his dreams of travelling, he truly has a wonderful life.
- James Stewart as George Bailey
- Donna Reed as Mary Hatch Bailey
- Lionel Barrymore as Henry F. Potter
- Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy
- Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody
- Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Bailey
- Frank Faylen as Ernie Bishop
- Ward Bond as Bert
- Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick
- H. B. Warner as Mr. Gower
- Todd Karns as Harry Bailey
- Samuel S. Hinds as Peter Bailey
- Lillian Randolph as Annie
- Mary Treen as Cousin Tilly
- Frank Albertson as Sam Wainwright
- Virginia Patton as Ruth Dakin Bailey
- Charles Williams as Cousin Eustace
- Sarah Edwards as Mrs. Hatch
- William Edmunds as Mr. Martini
- Bobby Anderson as Little George Bailey
- Ronnie Ralph as Little Sam Wainwright
- Jean Gale as Little Mary Hatch
- Jeanine Ann Roose as Little Violet Bick
- George Nokes as Little Harry Bailey
- Danny Mummert as Little Marty Hatch
- Sheldon Leonard as Nick, the bartender
- Charles Lane as The rent collector
- Jimmy Hawkins as Tommy Bailey
- Karolyn Grimes as Zuzu Bailey
- Larry Simms as Pete Bailey
- Carol Coomes (AKA Carol Coombs) as Janie Bailey
- Charles Halton as Carter, bank examiner (uncredited)
- Joseph Kearns as Angel Joseph (voice, uncredited)
- Evelyn Moriarty as Girl in the bar (uncredited)
- Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as Freddie (Mary's high school suitor)
- Max Wagner as Cashier/Bouncer at Nick's Bar
- Tom Fadden as Bridge Caretaker (uncredited)
- Stanley Andrews as Mr. Welch (uncredited)
- Adriana Caselotti as the singer in Martini's Bar (uncredited)[N 3]
The contention that James Stewart is often referred to as Capra's only choice to play George Bailey is disputed by film historian Stephen Cox, who indicates that "Henry Fonda was in the running."
Although it was stated that Jean Arthur, Ann Dvorak and Ginger Rogers were all considered for the role of Mary before Donna Reed won the part, this list is also disputed by Cox as he indicates that Jean Arthur was first offered the part but had to turn it down for a prior commitment on Broadway before Capra turned to Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott and Ann Dvorak. Ginger Rogers was offered the female lead, but turned it down because she considered it "too bland". In Chapter 26 of her autobiography Ginger: My Story, she questioned the decline of the role by asking her readers: "Foolish, you say?"
A long list of actors were considered for the role of Potter (originally named Herbert Potter): Edward Arnold, Charles Bickford, Edgar Buchanan, Louis Calhern, Victor Jory, Raymond Massey, Vincent Price and even Thomas Mitchell. However, Lionel Barrymore, who eventually won the role, was a famous Ebenezer Scrooge in radio dramatizations of A Christmas Carol at the time. Barrymore had worked with Capra earlier on his 1938 Best Picture Oscar winner You Can't Take It with You.
H. B. Warner, who was cast as the drugstore owner Mr. Gower, actually studied medicine before going into acting. He was also in some of Capra's other films, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, You Can't Take It with You, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The name Gower came from Capra's employer Columbia Pictures, which had been located on Gower St. for many years. Also on Gower St. was a drugstore that was a favorite for the studio's employees.
Charles Williams, who was cast as Eustace Bailey, and Mary Treen, who was cast as Matilda "Tilly" Bailey, were both B-list actors, as they both had appeared in 90 films each before filming It's a Wonderful Life.
The original story "The Greatest Gift" was written by Philip Van Doren Stern in November 1939. After being unsuccessful in getting the story published, he decided to make it into a Christmas card, and mailed 200 copies to family and friends in December 1943.[N 4]The story came to the attention of RKO producer David Hempstead, who showed it to Cary Grant's Hollywood agent and, in April 1944, RKO Pictures bought the rights to the story for $10,000 hoping to turn the story into a vehicle for Grant. RKO created three unsatisfactory scripts before shelving the planned movie with Grant going on to make another Christmas picture, The Bishop's Wife.[N 5]
At the suggestion of RKO studio chief Charles Koerner, Frank Capra read "The Greatest Gift" and immediately saw its potential. RKO, anxious to unload the project, sold the rights in 1945 to Capra's production company, Liberty Films, which had a nine-film distribution agreement with RKO, for $10,000, [N 6]and threw in the three scripts for free. Capra, along with writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett with Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson, and Dorothy Parker brought in to "polish" the script â€” turned the story and what was worth using from the three scripts into a screenplay that Capra would rename It's a Wonderful Life. The script underwent many revisions throughout pre-production and during filming. Final screenplay credit went to Goodrich, Hackett and Capra, with "additional scenes" by Jo Swerling.
Seneca Falls, New York claims that when Frank Capra visited their town in 1945, he was inspired to model Bedford Falls after it. The town has an annual It's a Wonderful Life festival in December. In mid-2009, The Hotel Clarence opened in Seneca Falls, named for George Bailey's guardian angel. On December 10, 2010, the "It's a Wonderful Life" Museum opened in Seneca Falls with Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the movie, cutting the ribbon.
Both James Stewart (from Indiana, Pennsylvania) and Donna Reed (from Denison, Iowa) came from small towns. Stewart's father ran a small hardware store, in which he helped him out for years. Reed won an impromptu bet with Lionel Barrymore when he challenged her to milk a cow on set.
It's a Wonderful Life was shot at the RKO studio in Culver City, California, and the RKO Ranch in Encino, where "Bedford Falls" was a set covering 4 acres (1.6 ha), assembled from three separate parts with a main street stretching 300 yards (three city blocks), with 75 stores and buildings, a tree-lined center parkway and 20 full grown oak trees. For months prior to principal photography, the mammoth set was populated by pigeons, cats and dogs in order to give the "town" a lived-in feel. Due to the requirement to film in an "alternate universe" setting as well as during different seasons, the set was extremely adaptable. RKO created "chemical snow" for the film in order to avoid the need for dubbed dialogue when actors walked across the earlier type of movie snow, made up of crushed cornflakes. Filming started on April 15, 1946 and ended on July 27, 1946, exactly on deadline for the 90-day principal photography schedule.
The RKO ranch in Encino, the filming location of Bedford Falls, was razed in the mid-1950s. There are only two surviving locations from the film. The first is the swimming pool that was unveiled during the famous dance scene where George courts Mary. It is located in the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School and is still in operation as of 2008. The second is the "Martini home", at 4587 Viro Road in La CaĂ±ada Flintridge, California.
During filming, in the scene where Uncle Billy gets drunk at Harry and Ruth's welcome home/newlyweds' party, George points him in the right direction home. As the camera focuses on George, smiling at his uncle staggering away, a crash is heard in the distance and Uncle Billy yells, "I'm all right! I'm all right!" Equipment on the set had actually been accidentally knocked over â€” Capra left in Thomas Mitchell's impromptu ad lib (although the "crashing" noise was augmented with added sound effects).
Dimitri Tiomkin had written Death Telegram and Gower's Deliverance for the drugstore scenes, but in the editing room Capra elected to go with no music for those scenes. Those changes, along with others, led to a falling out between Tiomkin and Capra. Tiomkin had worked on a lot of Capra's previous films, and was saddened that Capra decided to have the music pared or toned down, moved, or cut entirely. He felt as though his work was being seen as a mere suggestion. In his autobiography Please Don't Hate Me, he said of the incident, "an all around scissors job".
The products and advertisements featured in Mr. Gower's drugstore include Coca-Cola, Paterson tobacco pipes, La Unica cigars, Camel cigarettes, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Chesterfield cigarettes, Vaseline hair tonic, Penetro cough syrup, Pepto-Bismol, Bayer Aspirin ("for colds and influenza"), and The Saturday Evening Post.
In an earlier draft of the script, the scene where George saves his brother Harry as a child was different. The scene had the boys playing hockey on the river (which is on Potter's property) as Potter watches with disdain. George shoots the puck, but it goes astray and breaks the "No Trespassing" sign and lands in Potter's yard. Potter becomes irate, and the gardener releases the attack dogs, which causes the boys to flee. Harry falls in the ice, and George saves him with the same results.
Another scene that was in an earlier version was where young George visits his father at his work. After George tells off Mr. Potter and closes the door, he considers asking Uncle Billy about his drugstore dilemma. Billy is talking on the phone to the bank examiner, and lights his cigar and throws his match in the wastebasket. This scene explains that Tilly (short for Matilda) and Eustace are both his cousins (not Peter or Billy's kids though), and Tilly is on the phone with her friend Martha and says, "Potter's here, the bank examiner's coming. It's a day of judgment." As George is about to interrupt Tilly on the phone, Billy cried for help and Tilly runs in and puts the fire out with a pot of coffee. George decides he is probably better off dealing with the situation by himself.
Capra had filmed a number of sequences that were subsequently cut, the only remnants remaining being rare stills that have been unearthed. A number of alternative endings were considered, with Capra's first script having Bailey falling to his knees reciting The Lord's Prayer (the script also called for an opening scene with the townspeople in prayer). Feeling that an overly religious tone did not have the emotional impact of the family and friends rushing to rescue George Bailey, the closing scenes were rewritten.
It's a Wonderful Life premiered at the Globe Theatre in New York on December 20, 1946, to mixed reviews. While Capra considered the contemporary critical reviews to be either universally negative or at best dismissive, Time magazine said, "It's a Wonderful Life is a pretty wonderful movie. It has only one formidable rival (Goldwyn's The Best Years of Our Lives) as Hollywood's best picture of the year. Director Capra's inventiveness, humor and affection for human beings keep it glowing with life and excitement." Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, complimented some of the actors, including Stewart and Reed, but concluded that "the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer's point of view, is the sentimentality of it â€” its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities."
The film, which went into general release on January 7, 1947, placed 26th ($3.3 million) in box office revenues for 1947 (out of more than 400 features released), one place ahead of another Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street. The film was supposed to be released in January 1947, but was moved up to December 1946 to make it eligible for the 1946 Academy Awards. This move was seen as worse for the movie, as 1947 did not have quite the stiff competition as 1946. If it had entered the 1947 Awards, its biggest competition would have been Miracle On 34th Street. The number one grossing movie of 1947, The Best Years of Our Lives, made $11.5 million.
In 1990, It's a Wonderful Life was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.
In 2002, Britain's Channel 4 ranked It's a Wonderful Life as the seventh greatest film ever made in its poll "The 100 Greatest Films" and in 2006, the film reached #37 in the same channel's "100 Greatest Family Films". It currently ranks 30th on the IMDb's top 250.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its 10 Top 10, the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres, after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. It's a Wonderful Life was acknowledged as the third-best film in the fantasy genre.
Somewhat more iconoclastic views of the film and its content are occasionally expressed. In 1947, film critic Manny Farber wrote, "To make his points [Capra] always takes an easy, simple-minded path that doesn't give much credit to the intelligence of the audience", and adds that there are only a "few unsentimental moments here and there."[N 7] Wendell Jamieson, in a 2008 The New York Times article which was otherwise positive in its analysis of the film, posited that the film "is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife." In a 2010 Salon.com piece, Rich Cohen described It's a Wonderful Life as "the most terrifying Hollywood film ever made", opining that in the "Pottersville" sequence George is not "seeing the world that would exist had he never been born", but rather "the world as it does exist, in his time and also in our own". Nine years earlier another Salon writer, Gary Kamiya, had expressed the view that "Pottersville rocks!", adding, "The gauzy Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is."
The film's elevation to the status of a beloved classic came decades after its initial release, when it became a television staple in the 1970s and 1980s Christmas seasons. This came as a welcome surprise to Frank Capra and others involved with it. "It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen," Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proudâ€¦ but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea." In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film's theme as "the individual's belief in himself," and that he made it to "combat a modern trend toward atheism."
Awards and honors
Prior to the Los Angeles release of It's a Wonderful Life, Liberty Films mounted an extensive promotional campaign which included a daily advertisement highlighting one of the film's players, along with comments from reviewers. Jimmy Starr wrote, "If I were an Oscar, I'd elope with It's a Wonderful Life lock, stock and barrel on the night of the Academy Awards". The New York Daily Times also wrote an editorial in which it declared the film and James Stewart's performance, to be worthy of Academy Award consideration.
It's a Wonderful Life received five Academy Award nominations:
Best Picture for Frank Capra
Best Director for Frank Capra
Best Actor for James Stewart
Best Editing for William Hornbeck
The Best Years of Our Lives, a drama about servicemen attempting to return to their pre-World War II lives, won most of the awards that year, including four of the five for which It's a Wonderful Life was nominated. (The award for "Best Sound Recording" was won by The Jolson Story.) The Best Years of Our Lives was also an outstanding commercial success, ultimately becoming the highest grossing film of the decade, in contrast to the more modest box office returns of It's a Wonderful Life.
Capra won the "Best Motion Picture Director" award from the Golden Globes, and a "CEC Award" from the Cinema Writers Circle in Spain, for Mejor PelĂcula Extranjera (Best Foreign Film). Jimmy Hawkins won a "Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Young Artist Awards in 1994; the award recognized his role as Tommy Bailey as igniting his career, which lasted until the mid-1960s.
American Film Institute Lists
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies â€” #11
Mr. Potter - #6 Villain
George Bailey - #9 Hero
Buffalo Gal (Won't You Come Out Tonight) - Nominated
"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word, and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down." - Nominated
"To my big brother George, the richest man in town!" - Nominated
"Look, Daddy. Teacher says, â€śEvery time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.â€ť" - Nominated
It's A Wonderful Life
An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.
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Genre: Drama , Family , Fantasy | Length: 130 minutes | Land/Year: USA/1946
Regie: Frank Capra | Actors: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi
It's a Wonderful Life